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Bashing Back

Posted 1/18/2006

The letter written by Leo Williams in City Paper (“No, but There Is This Thing Called ‘Bashing’ . . . ,” The Mail, Jan. 4) was nothing more than a diatribe consisting of blatant homophobia, hatred, and ignorance. The venom spewed by Mr. Williams included the outlandish charge that “homosexuals are largely responsible for one of the deadliest epidemics in history.” Assuming he is referring to HIV/AIDS, no researcher of any distinction has successfully identified the origin of the disease. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people are dying in Africa and throughout the world each year, and to attribute the scourge to “homosexuals” is as ludicrous as it is patently false.

Mr. Williams went on to whine that gays “want to compare themselves to the black civil-rights struggle.” The best way to respond to his complaint is to quote a couple of noteworthy people who actually knew what the civil-rights struggle was all about.

Julian Bond, a former associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and current chairman of the NAACP, said recently in Baltimore, “Sexual disposition parallels race—I was born black and had no choice. I couldn’t change and wouldn’t change if I could.” Mr. Bond continued, “Like race, our sexuality isn’t a preference—it is immutable, unchangeable, and the Constitution protects us all against prejudices and discrimination based on immutable differences.”

Another individual who knew something about the civil-rights movement is Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King. “I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice,” Mrs. King has said. “But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ . . . I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

Mr. Williams further asked if homosexuals have “ever been lynched or had their homes and churches burned to the ground by hate groups?” If Mr. Williams believes that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people have not been victims of hate crimes, he is apparently living on another planet.

The main question here is whether Mr. Williams’ hatred is steeped in ignorance or his ignorance is steeped in hatred?


The author writes for Baltimore OUTloud and is media coordinator for Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays-Howard County.

The last time Leo Williams and I met through City Paper, he was employed trying to shame women into giving up the newfound rights and privileges that white men enjoy in this country. Now he has set his sights on the gay community. His “logic” would more accurately be defined as “specious reasoning.” The inability to vote or be a juror is the specific result of discrimination against blacks; the inability to marry and enjoy the rights of the married is the specific result of discrimination against gays. I am puzzled when people like Mr. Williams drag “morality” into the issue of who prefers the physical and emotional connection with whom. Sex, after all, is just plumbing parts put together, and whichever way and how the connection is made is surely the purview of the consenting adults involved.

Other than that, ho-hum. Mr. Williams and his ilk seem to harbor a Victorian prissiness combined with an unhealthy obsession about other people’s sex lives. Yuk. Where’s your vaunted morality when it comes to letting people live loving lives with all the attendant social rights? And before your pantaloons get all twisty, refer back to the words “consenting adults.”

Sharon Price

Leo Williams, let me share some things that they don’t teach in “Homophobia 101.”

1) Scientists have discovered that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is what causes AIDS. And while the virus was first seen in gay men and poor Haitians, this does not mean either group are “responsible” for its existence.

2) Many groups thought to live an “immoral lifestyle” have fought for their legal rights. There are many who believe that unwed teenage mothers, common-law couples, divorced and remarried folks, and interracial couples are living “immoral lifestyles,” and yet they all have fought for, and won, their civil rights.

3) Yes, gay men and lesbian women have been denied the right to sit on juries, serve in the military, be police officers and firefighters. Many of us have been denied the right to vote, the right to gather, and even much of our writings have been declared obscene even when they do not describe anything sexual.

4) Have we been lynched? Hell YES. Matthew Shepard was strung up on a barbed-wire fence and beaten to death in Laramie, Wyo. He was neither the first nor the last gay or lesbian to be murdered.

In 1980, the Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles (which ministers to gays and lesbians) was firebombed. It has happened to other churches and community centers since then.

In the late 1980s, my partner, the late Rev. Joseph Totten-Reid, served as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Santa Barbara, Calif. During our time there, we routinely received death threats and experienced automobile vandalism. Other Metropolitan Community Churches have been visited by neo-Nazi and Klan members.

Yes, there have been stumbling blocks put in our way, but we have been invited to the table of justice by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Jimmy Carter, and people of goodwill and faith. It may take time, but we believe we will succeed.

Michael Totten-Reid


Bar Car isn’t New

Interesting cover story last week (“Bar Car,” Jan. 4), but the partying on MARC’s Penn Line trains was preceded by two decades on the Camden Line between Washington and Baltimore during the 1970s. However, it occurred only on Friday nights on the last train out of Union Station, was neither raucous nor objectionable, and did not include fornication.

There was only one coach on that “late” train—a local that left Washington at 7 p.m. bound for Camden Yards—and its passengers were not habitual drinkers. Most carried only one cocktail or beer on board, and the conductor—a congenial man named Jack with a black handlebar mustache who wore an antiquated B&O conductor’s cap—could generally be counted on to provide a bag or two of pretzels and potato chips.

The commuters ranged in age from mid-20s to late 60s, and virtually all were professionals above the level of cubicle worker, some married, some single. A few held fairly high federal government positions. (I personally was not a civil servant but a consultant at the time to the U.S. Small Business Administration administrator, a presidential appointee.)

That last train offered a pleasant opportunity to unwind at week’s end with a friendly group of commuters, most of whom knew each other from having traveled together between Baltimore and Washington on different trains the other mornings and evenings of the week.

Nobody got drunk. Nobody got laid. And nobody ever complained. But every one of us had a really good time heading home.

Alan Z. Forman


Plagiarizing to the Crowd

So, let me get this straight: Sun columnist Michael Olesker regurgitates almost whole a few sentences from news stories found in our national papers of record (and gasp, his own paper, too!), includes them in his column without attribution to set up an argument, and then has the audacity to continue writing (Media Circus, Jan. 4)? That bastard!

Gadi Dechter’s mini-witch hunt would mean little if The Sun hadn’t overreacted and tossed Olesker out like yesterday’s smudged broadsheet, but that Dechter found a few instances where Olesker’s writing echoed news accounts is hardly shocking, or worthy of Dechter’s or our time.

Journalists construct stories and columns on the backs of other journalists and columnists—as well as through original reporting, or turning a story upside down for a fresh angle or column fodder, or whatever it takes to make the story compelling, the column provocative. It happens. A lot.

And for good reason: If a story is to be told completely and told well, it needs the depth of previous reportage. But the story also needs to flow, so the reader won’t get lost in all the in-print back-patting that would result in the name of ethical attribution.

Even reporters and writers who might want to give credit where it is due are told by editors that there’s no need to credit the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal because, as papers of record, the facts in their stories have become public knowledge.

Obviously, there are limits to this, such as when one newspaper has recently broken a story and continues to run with it.

But as a columnist, Olesker’s “lifting” of material was done not to mislead, or to claim that he was the reporter who unearthed the events he was writing about. He used the material (which he clearly could have camouflaged more effectively) to inform his audience of his column’s subject. This is standard industry practice. Perhaps the practice should be changed—columnists are notoriously lazy and, as Dechter deftly shows, prone to hasty, useless accusations—but until it is, there’s no real reason to continue jacking up every ink-stained wretch who has attempted to reduce news “facts” to set up his or her column. Unless there’s some serious pilfering going on, it’s hardly worth mentioning.

Olesker is hardly the most defensible figure in local media. He has been rewriting the same column (talk about lifting paragraphs) for the better part of two decades, is demonstrably lazy, was a pompous bore as a commentator for WJZ-TV, and has been disdainful of other local publications (especially City Paper).

But he is as much a plagiarist as Dechter is an investigative journalist.

Michael Anft

The writer is a former City Paper staff writer and author of Media Circus from September 2001 to September 2002.


As director of spare room and as a practicing artist, I am often frustrated by the level of critical engagement at City Paper. Such is the case with a recent “Critic’s Choice” for the final spare room (Baltimore Weekly, Jan. 4). Anna Ditkoff opens her piece with a glaring ignorance about the event she’s “picking.” While I am always happy for the press, I am perplexed by the nature of the content. How is it possible for a “critic” to endorse or reject a genre she doesn’t understand?

Perhaps the “Critic’s Choice” should be renamed “Happenings Around Town” or “A Press Release We Got (Which We Haven’t Researched) That We’ll Give to You Verbatim With a Bit of Irony.” After three years, and over 20 projects, there was ample opportunity for City Paper to see spare room in the flesh. I am disappointed that that sort of research didn’t happen.

Spare room was a labor of love, and I am grateful to all of the artists who exhibited their work in the space. I am also thankful for the dedicated audience who supported the venue. While spare room must close its doors, I hope others will keep the gesture alive by showing art in their own private spaces. Clean out that spare room or closet . . . give art a home.

Cindy Rehm

Editor Lee Gardner responds: Anna e-mailed your UMBC account on Dec. 28 to request more information about the exhibit in question and received no response.

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